No matter how many Sweet and Tender Hooligans shows we've been to, the thrill of spying on the slack-jawed, unsuspecting, first-timers in the crowd never gets old. There's that moment where all of the evidence that tells them that they're actually watching a Morrissey/Smiths tribute band just nonchalantly melts away. All of the sudden, it's as if the band is indeed the real deal. Gradually, the fan's screams get louder. You start watching your back to make sure they don't suddenly faint on top of you. With each pristine rendition of hits "Ask," or "There is a Light That Never Goes Out," even the most skeptical Moz fan will bow down to the Hooligan's pompadour-wearing high priest, lead singer Jose Maldonado. Quite honestly, we still allow ourselves to get totally fooled by the band's bonafide stage act from time to time.
Last Friday, the L.A.-based tribute band walked on stage to a wall-to-wall crowd at the House of Blues in Anaheim, unleashing its cavalcade of anthems and rare gems from the salad days of Morrissey's career. And while his slinky, melodramatic contortions on stage were not quite his own, the cries of "Viva Maldonado!" from the crowd reminded just how much of a cult status the band and its frontman have achieved over the last16 years. Sporting a loose, black suit (which he gradually peeled away during the set), Maldonado's quivering baritone and rubbery facial expressions matched the masculine, English diva spot on. Every now and then he'd throw in a little Latin flavor for the Mexican fans (of which there were many) by weaving a little Spanish into the lyrics into songs like "Girlfriend in a Coma," which is always met with instant approval.
Behind the frontman's seasoned stage antics, the rest of the Hooligans were predictably perfect. They may have been pretty stoic for most of the set, the guitars of David Collett and Kerry DeLeon sparkled with all the flavor of Johnny Marr while bassist Joe Escalante of the Vandals brought his ineffable low end timing to the stage alongside spitfre drummer Danny Garcia.
Though it's easy for a longtime fan of the band to get a little too used to the Hooligan's set selection (yeah, of course they're gonna do "The Last of the Famous International Playboys"), there's always the potential for a surprise during their long-winded gigs. At several points during the performance, Maldonado mentioned that Ex-Morrissey drummer Andrew Parisi was hanging back stage. The tease lasted for most of the show until a grey, curly-haired Parisi emerged from the wings to hop on the kit for the rockabilly swing of "Pregnant For the Last Time." Machine gun tom fills during the song's breakdown let us know that his chops remain intact after all these years. And his loping snare slaps during an energized rendition of "Disappointed" were still able to get the crowd clapping
By the time the Hooligan's decided to close things out with "Suedehead," a practically shirtless Maldonado acknowledged that this just might be one of the the longest sets the band had ever done. Of course you wouldn't be able to tell the way fans clamored for more after the band's grand final number. You have to imagine that as hard as it is to master the Moz catalog, it's equally as hard not to try to play it all in one show. But should the Hooligans ever decide to go for the world record of the longest tribute band performance in history, we imagine they'd have plenty of fans willing to watch.
Critical Bias: I'm pretty sure I want "First of the Gang to Die" to play at my funeral at some point.
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The Crowd: Latino greasers, beautiful punk chicks, mods in tight black clothing, pompadours-a-plenty.
Overheard: "Viva Maldonaaaaaaaadooooo!"
Random Notebook Dump: I've never seen this many people jamming into a room to see a tribute band. Ever.